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Mosques in China's Hinterland

Mosques in China's Hinterland

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The main prayer hall of the mosque is where prayers are held and it usually covers a wide area to accommodate the people. It also occupies the most prominent spot in the mosque. One important feature in the mosque is the qibla. The qibla indicates the direction of Mecca and it is actually the niche-called a mihrab-that is fixed into a wall. The qibla is the most important part of the mosque and it is usually constructed as a small ornamental shrine-like structure in the wall. The prayer hall has also a pulpit with ten steps, symbolizing the seat where Prophet Mohammed lectured. The imam, or Islanmic leader, is only allowed to the third flight of steps-called the mimbar.
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At the front of the prayer hall is a corridor where the worshippers leave their shoes. Islam does not advocate idol worship. During prayers, the worshipper would face the west in the direction f Mecca. Hence the form of the plane allows much freedom and variety in design. And in order to accommodate a large congreagation, the prayer hall would usually link a few building towards the direction of Mecca. For such building structure, each hall would have its own roof, instead of having one huge one for all the buildings as a whole. The sight of such a mosque resembles a mountain range. It is also a unique architecture style for China’s mosques.
The minaret-known as light tower in China-in the mosque is for the purpose of calling the Muslims for prayers. The minaret of Huaisheng Mosque in Guagnzhou has a unique design. Called the Light Minaret, it is a cylindrical brick structure that measures 36.3 meters in height. It has a central pillar with a winding staircase leading to the top. At the top is a platform with balustrades from which prayer calls are made, and rising from the platform is a column with a pavilion at its top. Because of this special minaret, Huaisheng Mosque is also known as Lighthouse Mosque.
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According to Islam, all Muslims are to go through a period of fasting during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This is known as Ramadan and during the whole of this month, Muslims are to fast between sunrise and sunset. As this period of fasting is based on the phase of the moon, hence, an observatory is built at a high point in the mosque. In the middle of the Ming Dynasty, the Muslim educator Hu Dengzhou (1552-1597) of Shaanxi returned from pilgrimage in Mecca, and began a series of lectures in the mosque. This was how a building meant for conduction lectures in the mosque first came into being and spread to other parts of the country. The Islamic faith emphasizes on the importance of keeping oneself clean as a symbol of one’s purity. Before prayers, the Muslims are to clean and wash themselves. Hence a pool for washing and a washing area are indispensable in a mosque.
The colors used in the moques are primarily cold colors such as blue, green, white and black. This choice of clors has to do with the dry and hot weather conditions of the Arab regions, and it is also in keeping with the Islamic teaching of purity. The mosques in China are also influenced by this choice of colors, hence the green bricks, grey tiles and blue glazed tiles for the roofs. It was only when the emperor had given a title to the mosque could colors such as yellow be used for the glazed tile. Even then, it would be matched with a green outlines so as not to appear too showy.
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Decorative ornaments constitue an important element in Islam architecture. However, unlike a typical mosque that uses mosaic and cement as construction materials for ornaments, the mosques in China used wood and bricks, on which decorative designs were carved and painted. However, only patterns of plant can be used and patterns of animals are strictly prohibited. Due to the influence of Han culture, carvings of patters also appeared on tiles used in the mosques.
The mosques in China do share similarities in the decorative aspect with the mosques in the Arab world. This is seen in the Quran verses that adorned the walls in the calligraphic form for decorative purposes, which is seldom seen in other forms of building art. In China’s mosques, one can even find the combination of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy in inscribed boards, which are only common in Chinese culture.
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The focal point of decoration in the prayer hall of a mosque is the mihrab, which is usually inscribed with verses from the Quran, or have simple patterns carved on it. It catches the attention of the people, yet retains the respect and elegance. The mosque in Niujie Street of Beijing has a mihrab that is exquisitely crafted-which is likely due to the fact that Beijing was once the imperial city. It even employs the use of the color red and gold and exudes a rich aesthetic beauty. It can be considered the grandest mosque in the country.

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